The Lost Campus

On Friday, Carnegie Mellon University and its department of civil and environmental engineering held a ceremony at Porter Hall to commemorate the building’s centennial. It was an unusual acknowledgment of campus history, but it was appropriate, considering Porter is the first building on campus to pass the century mark.

The ceremony was a mix of historical recognition and Disney World-style showmanship. After a reception in a civil engineering department lab, a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place at Porter’s Frew Street entrance, with remarks from University president Jared Cohon, H&SS dean John P. Lehoczky, and professor Pradeep Khosla of electrical and computer engineering. The crowd, consisting mostly of civil engineering students, was soon joined by a likeness of Andrew Carnegie, brought to the site via horse and buggy. A group photo was taken to simulate the large class pictures of the early 1900s, and the ceremony was continued in Gregg Hall.

After “Carnegie”’s remarks about “his” life experiences, school of architecture professor Charles Rosenblum addressed the audience about the historical influence of Henry Hornbostel and the architectural importance of the usually overlooked Porter Hall. Rosenblum detailed many aspects of Hornbostel’s work, from other campus buildings to competition entries to bridges. It was the combination of Hornbostel’s “Beaux Arts” training and his strong engineering background that made his designs unique, Rosenblum said. Examples of this styling can be found in Porter’s wrought iron lighting fixtures. They are ornate and very distinctive, yet also industrial in appearance.

What Could Have Been

Though much attention is being given to Porter Hall this year, few may realize that the building was just the beginning of a grand campus plan, one that was only partially executed. Upon winning the campus design competition, Hornbostel continued to refine his building designs for the school to fit the fluctuating budget and needs of the school. His original design was nearly perfect in its aesthetic unity, layout, and scale, yet the funds for creating such a grand campus were limited. It was therefore logical to make the first building on campus act as not only adequate educational space but also as an appropriate entrance to the school. The Frew Street entrance was the first focal center of the school and was used for class pictures, inspiring the re-creation taken during Friday’s ceremony.

Since the redesign of Porter Hall — then called the School of Applied Industries — changed the character of his overall design, Hornbostel rethought the entire rest of the campus. His next revision included a number of new features, most notably a large tower reaching down into Junction Hollow on the current site of Hamerschlag Hall’s tower. This tower would have served as one the campus’s most prominent features and also as the school’s main power plant. Two smaller towers would have flanked the main tower, approximately where the entrances of Wean and the northwest side of Porter Hall are today. A fourth tower would have gone where today’s CFA building stands as part of what Hornbostel called the “Museum and Auditorium” in the plan. In the ravine adjoining the school where Newell-Simon Hall stands today, Hornbostel proposed an athletic stadium.

Another notable feature of this plan was the Women’s School, which would have had its own complex of buildings and quad. This idea was modified drastically that same year, as Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall was built in the general vicinity of the proposed quad.
According to later designs, Margaret Morrison Hall was never completed the way Hornbostel wanted it. The west side of the building was extended dramatically a few years after the original portion was built, but Hornbostel intended an extension equal in size to the front portion to be attached to the rear of the building. This new rear wing would have included a side rotunda mirroring the existing one, still an architectural curiosity today. On the other side of the building, next to today’s “Donner Ditch,” Hornbostel wanted to create a grand entryway, which would have relegated the impressive rotunda that we are all familiar with into a simple side entrance. Needless to say, funds for this huge project were impossible to come by, even from Carnegie himself. Things hardly change over a hundred years; a project to add a new modern-style east wing to Margaret Morrison has been in the works for years, but has been put off because priorities have been rearranged for larger projects such as the Gates Center.

Another building that Hornbostel — and the school — considered essential to the campus was an administration building. One design that made its way through the time’s prominent architectural journals was a huge building with columns and statuary. It was intended to face Frew Street and act as a main gateway to the campus. When it became possible for an administration building to be constructed, its execution was about one-quarter the size of this design. Today it is the library-facing end of Baker Hall and provides no grand entryway to the campus but for a lone sidewalk.

Henry Hornbostel was an architectural genius, but it seems that the scale and magnitude of his designs were much too elaborate for the realities of educational funding to accept. His constant revisions created a somewhat disconnected campus, and the holes that were left open early in the campus’s history were to be filled in by later generations with drastically different tastes (Wean Hall being the biggest example).

With events such as the Porter rededication, the University shows that it not only has the ability to look to the future of campus architecture by expanding our west campus, but it also can recognize the extraordinary mind of an architect who has impacted the everyday experiences of thousands of students.